When I first started homeschooling, my kids were 9, 6 and 4. I mainly focused on my 9 year old, because school felt serious, and I didn't want to mess him up! Thankfully, my girls just hitched a ride along with their brother and joined in on the learning. That year, I didn't know about Classical Conversations and how wonderful it is for combining learning for the whole family.
Not a year goes by that I look at the moms who are starting homeschooling with their 4 year old that I don't have to fight off jealousy. It would be wonderful to be able to go back and learn all of this with my kids from the beginning. God is good, and He's laid out a path for me to still redeem my family's education, even though I didn't homeschool from day one.
Often, I see those moms of littles worrying about all kinds of homeschooling fears. They see someone like me, who enters CC with a 10 year old, buys all of the optional items, and wonder, "Am I missing something?" Then, after a year or two, they drop out because they feel they're not doing enough. Let me just say that these years are the hardest on mom because all of your work is like getting your house rewired while you're sitting on 20 year old couches, or the engine of your car rebuilt when you have scratches all up and down the sides from little bike riders. You spend a lot of money for something that you can't see. The early years of education are the root building years; they're the underground work. They are so necessary for growing oaks of righteousness that continually bear fruit, but they don't look flashy. It's hard work.
So I'm going to dream for a moment. I'm going to lay out the strategy I would take if I could go back to the beginning and start all over.
Mothers of 4-6 Year Olds - I'm talking to you!
What to Buy: This is where the craziness starts right?! Have you been to one of those homeschool book fairs where there are so many options of curriculum that you are completely overwhelmed and intimidated? My short list of what I would buy:
- Classical Conversations Foundations Guide. This thing is awesome. It contains all of the memory work for the entire Foundations program, along with tons of extras explaining the science and fine arts projects that happen on community day. One book for the entire family, for the entire program is a simple start. If you do join CC and buy this book, my greatest tip is read it cover to cover every year. There is so much great info included, you'll definitely miss something on your first read. Confession: I didn't read it my first year. Wish I had.
- Tin Whistle - one for every kid in the program. These are the cheapest instruments around, and the kids enjoy them for 6 weeks out of the year. Don't try to find it cheaper somewhere other than from a CC book rep because they come in different keys (like the key of D, or C#). No need to add a second dimension to the shrill tones played in this age group! You will love all they learn about music theory and might even find yourself wanting to try your hand at this magic music wand.
- Spell to Write and Read (or some other phonics program). You can use whatever reading program that you like, but I love this one because it's a one time purchase that I am still using with my 15 year old. Take it super slow in these years because you have a lot of time to grow.
- Life of Fred Math (or some other math program). I suggest this series because it's math wrapped up in story form. At this age, math should be play. Count beans, sort silverware, learn to read a clock, or go on a geometry hunt outside. Play. Don't feel guilty.
That's it. I told you it was short!
All of the other wonderful learning that happens at this time doesn't require another workbook or teacher's guide. Go outside and wander as you investigate worms or leaves. Read aloud good books...ones that you enjoy too. Go to the museum. Spend time exploring at a farmer's market. Get groceries. Change diapers. Rest. There is plenty of time for more.
If I wanted a little more, I might buy:
- Trivium at the Table maps. These are big and beautiful maps with all of the places and features you'll be learning throughout the year clearly marked. I would foster a love of maps from the very beginning.
- CC Audio CDs. Want to review painlessly? Stick the CD in the car and let it play as you drive. Our best year of CC review time was when we were a part of a community that required a 45 min drive to attend. We reviewed a lot that year!
- The CC App. Another great review tool is the CC app. My kids enjoy reviewing this way, and there are tons of extras included like "History Highlights" on each history sentence, and "Science Snippets" if you wanted to know more about something.
- A Prescripts book. These are cursive instruction and handwriting books. I've used them with my youngest from the time she was six. She's loved them.
- A good set of readers like these (American Language Series). Reading time is where you want to spend the bulk of your energy. These books are beautiful and the kids in my community that use them really enjoy them.
And I probably would buy those because I love options.
The resources above would not reflect daily activities. Don't go schedule in every second of every day with structured learning. It doesn't have to be that hard. Burnout will follow shortly if you see tools for your teaching as shackles of your schedule.
What I wouldn't buy YET:
- Classical Conversations Memory Work Flashcards are awesome. They come in this cute little deck of colorful school supply goodness that is nearly irresistible. If you run a tight ship at home, and you're good about keeping up with things, maybe these would survive in your home. When I had 4 and 6 year olds, we were good to leave the house with our hair brushed, let alone know where all the pieces of something like this could be found after being scattered around the house. My girls would have loved them into obscurity, but totally missed that there was actual memory work on them. There's plenty of time for these later. Buy these when your child starts really getting into the memory work and likes to play games like these.
- Classical Conversations History Acts and Facts Cards are also awesome. My 15 year old still uses these as reference as he studies. They will last forever. You could get these for your little ones, and enjoy looking at the beautiful pictures of the historical events together. There is so much extra information, you probably won't get to it all. You've got to play remember?! If you want to pace yourself, buy the first set your first year, then add a set each year. In CC we go through all four sets every year, but the titles of the timeline facts are in the guide, so you won't be lost. Don't fret reading a timeline card on a week that you're not memorizing that piece of information. It all comes together in the end. Trust the process and teach from rest.
- Latin Curriculum...unless you know Latin already and want to share your love of the language with your kids! Save this for later. I would spend my time learning the phonograms and spelling rules with my kids so that I could be a better teacher in these areas. Once these items are in your brain, you can be freed from the workbooks and take spelling with you as you go on walks, in the car, laying on a blanket under the stars, etc. It is so liberating.
I hope you're hearing my heart - you've got a lot on your plate. Raising young people requires so much energy, time, and skill. Don't downplay what you're doing right now. Your time with little people is precious. Savor it. The grass isn't exactly greener on the other side. Of course, the diapers disappear, but there are different things that are stinky and trying that come with every age.
If I could go back, I would focus on my own education first. I would learn and share my thoughts and excitement with my children. Like a mother bird, I could impart nourishment to the souls of my children through information I previously digested.
There's pressure with your first for sure. Your identity as a mother and teacher should not be wrapped up in their performance. You might have a first who's the dream student, but your second will be different, and your third will challenge you in all new ways. Your identity should rest in Christ alone.
Now for some Homework...because I know you're eager and nervous and excited all at the same time.
Here are some wonderfully encouraging articles/books I suggest you read to help quiet your heart and prepare for your journey. There is a long road ahead, but the harvest is worth it.
- I'm not an Airplane - (blog) on biting off more than you can chew
- Simple Act of Savoring - (blog) finding contentment in educating with babies and toddlers around
- Teaching from Rest - (book) peace and perspective for the Journey
- Classical Education Made Approachable - (book) the basics of a classical education (philosophy of education impacts everything you do!)
- The Core by Leigh Bortins - (book) outlines subject by subject expectations for different ages.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about Classical Conversations in the early years. I'll hold off being jealous and just let you know that your children are precious. Play with them! Enjoy them! Rest in the Truth that when God calls you to a task He will equip you to complete it.
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.